People make up projects, not technology—and overlooking this factor is the most common cause for project failures. Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister addressed this issue in their 1987 book Peopleware, which took the software industry by storm with its eye-opening, direct approach to managing productive development teams and organizations. While the first edition was, in the authors’ words, "written by two youngish middle-aged consultants who spent most of their time working at the project level," this new edition of Peopleware (including eight new chapters) was written by "two gnarled and grizzled old consultants who now spend appreciably more of their time working at organizational levels." The first edition very nicely addressed the issues of environment, human interaction, and why project teams and organizations fail to achieve their goals. In this second edition, DeMarco and Lister have taken the opportunity to share their own experience with "peopleware," and how it has had an impact on their own lives.
The book starts with some surprising statistics about project failure. Twenty-five percent of large projects fail to complete—and if you are concentrating on technology rather than sociology, your project may be in trouble. The authors provide examples of bad management technique through short stories, including the "take no prisoners" manager and why this approach doesn’t work in an environment where people use their brains to accomplish their work. The authors also address the "work smarter" movement that we have all experienced in one form or another. DeMarco and Lister argue that what poor management is really after is employees who can be worked longer and harder, and how your staff will not buy into this philosophy for long ("There Ain't No Such Thing as Overtime"). A new chapter also talks about human capital, and why salaries are treated as an expense instead of as a capital investment—definitely worth thinking about.
Pressure, explain the authors, will sometimes cause Management to take desperate measures to increase productivity. That danger is reinforced by the "seven false hopes of software management," as well as by Parkinson's Law, the credo that strengthens Management’s conviction to get the work done by setting impossible goals. Peopleware then addresses the work environment and its effect on productivity and the human body ("Bring Back the Doors").
Hiring and employee retention are challenges for modern Management that pays almost no attention to recruiting or keeping the right people ("Make Them Happy so They Don't Want to Leave"). The authors review how to hire the right person, and why people leave. Management, the authors stress, must learn how to grow productive teams, and understand why work should be fun (although it seems some managers make it their goal in life to make sure no one has fun on the job). This new edition discusses teambuilding in more detail than the original Peopleware, expanding on the concept of "teamicide," and why competition between team members is a problem.
The book addresses how quality is jeopardized, not by development teams, but by poor management. The authors also assign some of the blame to the software-user community, for helping to set the true quality standard by accepting poor quality products. One of the new chapters talks about a favorite topic of mine—Process Improvement—and why it's the same old stuff with just a different facade. Is it that Management is just not getting it?
Lister and DeMarco pinpoint the ultimate management sin: wasting people's time (have you ever sat in one of those meetings and wondered why you were there?). But the book also highlights what Management can and should do best: make change possible ("People Hate Change"), and build community.
I could go on and on with examples of why this book is a must-read for all management wannabes, as well as those who are currently leading project teams and organizations. If you are a team member, I would implore you to buy a copy of Peopleware and give it to your manager, and even his/her manager. If you are a manager, I would ask you to buy a copy for your boss. This book should be on the top of any manager's reading list.